For years now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised that his company would deliver a fully autonomous, self-driving vehicle to its customers.
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Some of Musk’s original claims date back to 2014, but Tesla has yet to release a vehicle or driving software that takes over driver responsibilities. Considering that building an autonomous vehicle (AV) is no easy feat, it’s no surprise.
Tesla is currently working on releasing a beta version of its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software. What features does this beta version include, how is it being tested, and how soon will the automaker deliver on its long-awaited promise of AVs?
In October 2020, Tesla began rolling out its FSD software, an early version of self-driving software that will allow vehicles to drive autonomously. Since then, the software updates have gone through testing by a select group of Tesla owners.
This fleet of drivers must take a test, which assesses their driving abilities based on five measurements called Safety Factors, which include:
- Hard braking
- Unsafe following
- Aggressive turning
- Forward collision warnings per 1,000 miles
- Forced Autopilot disengagement
A high safety score indicates safer driving behaviors. Tesla allows its Early Access Program (EAP) members to test out new beta releases.
Tesla’s recent FSD update is called FSD Beta 10.11. Based on its release notes, it’s a significant update chock-full of improvements. Some improvements include better pedestrian and cyclist detection, decreases in “phantom braking,” and more accurate predictions of where vehicles are turning or merging.
In response to a tweet, Musk states that if this beta update performs well, the company would probably lower the minimum safety score drivers need to participate in tests to 95. A key component of these beta updates is to enable the vehicle to drive autonomously to a destination entered in the navigation system.
However, Tesla stresses how important it is for drivers to remain vigilant, with both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road. If the FSD software has bugs or other issues, drivers need to be prepared to take back control of the vehicle.
The Washington Post recently had a panel of experts review footage captured by many Tesla beta testers. Results were mixed, but it can be argued that the beta update is nothing to get too excited about – it will likely still take time before AVs, especially autonomous Teslas, become commonplace on public roads and highways.
Research suggests that global sales of AVs will grow with an estimated 1 million units sold by 2025. While many drivers have noticed more autonomous features in their vehicles, such as parking assist, lane detection, blind spot warnings, and cruise control, the automotive industry still has to overcome challenges in bringing AVs to the masses.
Some benefits come with AVs. For example, advocates believe they will make roads safer, support job creation, and improve transportation equity. It’s also likely that the U.S. government will play a role in creating legislation to regulate AV automakers and drivers.
Tesla’s beta updates help the company gain feedback on how the software works in real-life driving situations so it can make improvements. Some argue that Tesla owners shouldn’t be able to participate in beta testing. In contrast, others believe it’s all a part of the process of bringing AVs to roads.
There’s no question that Tesla is an industry leader working to bring AVs to the market. With more testing, collaboration with the U.S. government, and time, it is possible that Tesla will deliver on its highly anticipated promise of AVs dominating roads and highways. Expect more FSD beta updates from Tesla in the future, but it will still be a while before AVs become mainstream.
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